Voting via SMS in the election: reality or fantasy?

April 14, 2009

A politician asks people to vote via SMS whether they want malls in villages. ‘No way’ — comes their response. 

“What an idea, Sirji,” says a beaming Abhishek Bachchan, appearing as the politician’s tech-savvy secretary in the popular TV campaign for mobile operator Idea Cellular.

‘What an idea’ indeed if people across India can vote for candidates via SMS in the April/May general election.

India is the fastest growing telecom market in the world — why can’t one vote via SMS? 

If I can transfer money or check my bank balance using my mobile phone, is voting-via-SMS impossible?

“Any mechanism used for electoral voting should ensure equal access for all,” says analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

“Voting is the one moment when we are all equal in democracy,” he adds.

Well yes, but in a country where over 700 million people are eligible to vote and more than half that number have access to mobile phones (375 million according to TRAI data), wouldn’t a voting-on-the-go option also help counter voter apathy.

Rajat Mukarji, head of Corporate Affairs at Idea Cellular, agrees.

Voting via SMS “on a principal level is within the realm of possibility as long as unique voter identities can be established,” says Mukarji.

If a proper screening process is put in place, the SMS vote can be a valid tool for democracy in India. After all, millions of Indians do use SMSes to decide the fate of reality show contestants on various TV channels.

As for voter apathy, appeals by Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan and that incessant ‘Jaago Re’ ad exhorting people to exercise their franchise have worked. At least for me.

I have got myself registered to vote, taking time to analyse which candidate will be the recipient of my precious ballot. 

Technology is certainly aiding me. Blogs and YouTube videos from candidates keep me informed about their campaign strategies and Google’s India election center keeps me in the loop about my constituency. 

Now all I have to do is cast my vote. Why can’t I vote via SMS? Am I asking for too much?

19 comments

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The idea is truly great and in fact praiseworthy but the techincal probem mentioned of half of population has acoess to mobile should not be a barrier in it. Infact its gud to have atleast half of population had mobile to access. now the mechanism part comes where the writer is lacking of mention.

Proper system like we have an option at electronic screening time to vote by SMS if yes they our name should be delete from the poll booth to avoid duplicate vote caste. with a proper system of code to separate constituency and candidate. The best part of this method it helps people are not present in their constituency at the time of vote , for people like me and several other will help them to caste their vote out from their home.

This will also revolutionize the telecommunication industry more and more votes will be registered and a better transparency can be seen.

It also helps voter to not get influence by any means at polling station and by any other meaning.

Hope fully one day i will be casting my vote from SMS. with an ink on my in box.

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive

Why just SMS? Why not tweet in favour of your candidate?

With two-thirds of Indians under 35, even the candidates shouldn’t be above 50. It’s not a very outlandish proposal, is it? Each candidate should have a blog and a twitter account where they can interact with voters on a regular basis.

And we can then sms/tweet/email them into a position of power.

What if someone in UP or Bihar resorts to “phone-capturing” and takes away mobile phones from all voters in a village?? Can Idea provide unique user IDs using biometrics??

Posted by Madhu | Report as abusive

I really liked the idea of SMS voting. However still we need to find ways of mapping Voter and mobile appropriately.

another probaly more easier solution to impliment solution is to let people vote through internet. This will to a great extent bring out more middle class voters in the election.

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

is that a joke folks, the issue is not abt the villagers who don’t have the Cellular phone. The issue is how many phones can be registered under one name, political leaders don’t need to rig going to polling booth they can give 3 cellular phone each to their supporters.

On top of that even if i go to municipal office and show my passport for getting the voter card for 3 times i am not recognized as a citizen by some damn commision and i don’t know how many citizens we have like that. Even if we introduce cell poll, will the cellular network companies provide the security needed??

Now the election campaign starts like this every household will have atleast 2 phones for home and ur kids will getting free incoming calls, if i am in assembly for 10 yrs i will be giving u connection for Rs50 unlimited, thats a gr8 offer even cellular company doesn’t give.

Nowadays we are getting some marketing calls from credit card sales person or product marketing companies, now be prepared to take the political vote calls, in one month u can get atleast 500 calls from political party office to their loyal voters.

In the present, we gave all the rights and power to media, they decide which party we shud vote to, now u want u to shift to network companies wow.

(one IDEA can kill u afterwards)

Posted by Bala | Report as abusive

Excellent blog.In India election season has come yet again. Political parties are upto palying the tricks of caste, religion, greed and liquor . All indians to be wise and broad minded, its the country, society which is more important than once’s personal,religious or caste interest. We must accept we have very very limited scope to vote for a good person, but thankfully still we have a chance to vote for some one good. We can not expect much of change in our political system or in our governance, but atleast we should give a try to change. Every politician appeals to the intellectuals and educated people and even challenges them to enter the politics, bring the changes and clean the dirt. alas end of the day, all parties fields criminals on their tickets, misery is people who are convicted are fielded, who are in Jails are also fileded. Wise people saves our country and our democracy. Casting our vote is to for the satisfaction that,atleast let us bring a change.
Wisdom should work above sentimentalism and work earnestly without attachment. Should be be an authentic also. Communicate authenticity to voters by standing up for what you believe in and sharing with voters what it is that calls you to public service.Election Day is a turnout game, so make sure that you have a robust effort to get your supporters to the polls. Get-Out-the-Vote planning should begin on day one of your campaign. Work with reporters to earn media coverage to help communicate the message of your campaign to a broader audience. Even on a grassroots campaign, don’t underestimate the importance of raising money. Start by generating a list of personal contacts and send a letter asking for their support. You won’t get what you don’t ask for. Ask directly for people’s money, time, and, of course, their vote. Convert undecided voters into supporters, and supporters into active volunteers and leaders. Ignore the people you’ll never convince!
Generate repeated, direct, personal contacts with voters. The more personal the conversation, the more effective it is at persuading voters to support you. Repeat that message over and over and over again. When you are completely tired of repeating your message, voters are just beginning to hear it. Develop a compelling message that connects with voters and conveys the central argument of your campaign-why you are running, and why voters should choose you. Lay out your path to victory in a campaign plan that you refer to often. Your plan is not a plan unless it’s written down! There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in managing an election.· Effectiveness is doing the right things.
· Efficiency is doing things right.
The general principles of effective management can be applied in every field, the differences being more in application than in principle. The Manager’s functions can be summed up as:
· Forming a vision
· Planning the strategy to realize the vision.
· Cultivating the art of leadership.
· Establishing institutional excellence.
· Building an innovative organization.
· Developing human resources.
· Building teams and teamwork.
· Delegation, motivation, and communication.
· Reviewing performance and taking corrective steps when called for.
Thus, election management is a process of aligning people and getting them committed to work for a common goal to the maximum social benefit – in search of excellence.

Posted by bhattathiri | Report as abusive

this is not bad ideaji, but the electon commision of india should accept this idea, i think that many in ur country doesnt now how to cast vote in the machine, then how they do sms , this cant be happen in your country so better search a new and good idea.

YOURS SINCERLY:MANHAL MOHD KHALIFA
(CITIZEN OF INDIA)

A mobile voting is a must for a country like ours and truly its a gr8 idea. Specially for those who are also working on voting day and can’t go to the polling booths can cast their votes thru mobiles. It should be implemented. Both the voting systems should co-exist (physical and mobile). Ppl who have access to the most convenient one can do voting according to their choice.

Posted by Roshan (changed name) | Report as abusive

The idea is commendable.

Let me share the example of Estonia, a Northern European country; the first country to allow voting by mobile phone in 2011 elections. The country has population roughly around 1.4 million and it has been recognized as one of the fastest growing economies with adaptation of new technologies in its various governing systems including electoral process. It was first country to allow voters cast votes using internet in 2005.

When Estonia allowed voting by mobile phone, two questions came to my mind: what made this country to go for mobile voting and how fair and safe it would be?
The basic motive behind launching internet voting in 2005 was to ensure fullest participation by the people of the country in democratic process of elections and there is now a wider and equitable access to mobile phone technology. The establishment of the country, since the threats of massive cyber attacks, is now aiming to secure the e-infrastructure of the country. A dedicated team of experts in the country is operating on security problems of the local e-networks.

Coming to India, although we are one of the countries looking seriously to adapt new technologies in various governing systems, there are main four tasks, which is a step-by-step process. Estonia has already gone through this before they could allow mobile voting in 2011 elections.

First of all we have still not been successful in the project of issuing voter identification cards to all. Unless and until this is not done successfully, we cannot even think of voting by mobile because this is the first step towards any attempt to adapt new technology in voting process.

Second is to ensuring wider and equitable access to mobile technology. There are so many people who still cannot afford owning a mobile phone. Mobile phone network is still to reach remote areas of our country. Besides, owning or having a mobile phone doesn’t necessarily mean one is educated to use it for various purposes.

Third is to simplifying and educating particular usage of mobile technology for the governing system like voting process.

And forth is to ensuring that the entire process is fair and safe. Such a process needs rigorous security audits.

These are very difficult tasks if they are not impossible; for an example given the fact that mobile voting to take place it requires that voters obtain free, authorized chips for their phones. The chip will verify the voter’s identity and authorize participation in the electronic voting system.

I do not think we are in position to start working on this process, unless we are successful at the first step i.e. issuing voter identification cards to all.

However, mobile voting may be experimented as a pilot project at one or other area wherein wider and equitable access is established and educating voters is not very difficult.

Posted by Pawan Khatawane | Report as abusive

A good idea and hopefully the EC takes some initiative to implement or try out in some smaller state level elections sooner.

Posted by Sridhar | Report as abusive

I think that the mobile phone can be a very powerful tool in democracy. If my phone can be flooded with meaningless messages from all parties with promises of what they will do in this election, why can’t I get back at them by not giving them my vote from the very same mobile phone? I hope the EC is listening (or at least reading)

Posted by chameli | Report as abusive

Great idea, sir-ji. So what if half the population has no access to cell phones. That half votes anyway. The other, lazy, `haves’ half will vote if it becomes as easy as SMSing.

Hi To all,

I think very good and fruitfull debate has been done on this topic but i request to take it as a positive intiative to achive true democratic practice and participation. The matter of concern raised by many blogger is appreciable but that can be short out by a proper system in placed. Still I am optimistic to cast my vote one day by SMS and the good example of ESTONIA is welcome message and give us strength to think about this idea.

After all we all are in democracy need a concess for it..

Hai Na idea sir ji

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive

How can i vote on SMS

Posted by Amit Kumar Shaw | Report as abusive

hi all,

Excellent Idea. It will be helpful for those who travel or not in the city.

But what about vote through post? Do we have it in India? If so, who can vote through post? Any idea…

Posted by Antony | Report as abusive

Unfortunately India does not have a system of voting via post. You have to be physically present in your constituency and have your name registered in the election list to cast your ballot.

Posted by Sakshi Didwania | Report as abusive

Anthony you should take a look at my colleague Madhu’s blog about the woes of casting his ballot. Seems like you will be away from your constituency this year.

http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2009/04/3 0/the-blue-blot-on-my-middle-finger/

Posted by Sakshi Didwania | Report as abusive

Indeed a good idea, with proper authorization of voters identity.
I voted today at Chennai and I wonder, if a complex Poll method can be digitalized, why could not the Government digitalizes the Voters Candidate checklist? At present, there is a member of EC checks for the voter (for identity and stuff) with a bundle of paper. If it is digitalized, it is very easy to find out the voter, who is mapped to that constitution and also can reduce the human error by a good percentage.
Yet again, there should be proper training given to EC member and well, I believe it is possible. Considering the IT boom in India. I assume most of the literate people in India knows how to operate a computer, if not it will not be a rocket mechanism to learn it.

Well its not a good idea. Coz in the country like INDIA a single person may hold 2 – 3 mobile number with him. If there is voting via SMS the counting no. of VOTES may get increase. And it may cause double counting system. And the EC cannot grant the permission for such voting. Coz the mobile no not show any VOTER ID no. or any identity of the person.

Well the EC has to think about the another idea for voting which is easy for people and the people may easily vote the candidate without standing in a Que.